A week of polls, and an 8,000-person Monday-night rally at the University of New Hampshire point to a Bernie Sanders rout in the state he handily won over Hillary Clinton in 2016 — a welcome result for the senator’s supporters, of course, but not a surprise.
Short of an absolute blowout by Sanders, the primary will not have been a true stress test of the Vermont Independent’s campaign. He has proven to have a large enough base of dedicated supporters to win a plurality. But whether he can grow his coalition or win head-to-head will not be proven as long as the primary field stays crowded and any individual moderate candidate fails to break out.
“He has work to do,” said David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama. “He’s got a high floor. It’s not clear where his ceiling is. His floor is high enough to keep him in the middle of this race, but it’s not high enough to win.”
Sanders is helped in New Hampshire by a traffic jam of moderates, especially a late surge by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is stealing support from Sanders’ strongest rival in Iowa, Pete Buttigieg. Polls this week showed Klobuchar rising after a strong debate on Friday night.
That surge has been reflected on the ground, too. She’s been drawing the biggest crowds of her campaign, including some 1,100 people to a Sunday rally in Nashua, N.H. Her supporters are optimistic she can draw in undecided voters, and polls have shown about a third of voters are still uncommitted.
“There’s going to be a big block of undecided voters; they’re going to break away,” Klobuchar delegate Michael Atkins said of Bernie. “That’s the bottom line, where they’re gonna go. That’s the question, and we don’t know the answer.”
Dave Lang, 56, drove from his home in Merrimack, N.H., to see Klobuchar. He used to be a Republican, until Donald Trump turned him off from the party. He’s undecided and was leaning toward Biden and Buttigieg, but Klobuchar recently piqued his interest.
“I know some of the local papers have endorsed her, and I watched the debate and I was curious about hearing directly from her,” he said. “I was impressed with her performance in the debate.”
Though Klobuchar has emerged as a formidable middle-ground candidate for people who think Biden is too old and Buttigieg is too inexperienced, her momentum may have come too late to make a realistic winning sprint in the state.
Sanders ‘needs to win big’
What her run definitely does is give Sanders supporters some peace of mind. Buttigieg has been the only candidate giving Sanders a real challenge, even beating him in one recent poll. But Klobuchar stealing votes from his pocket and a nasty Biden attack ad will probably flatten his support for the time being.